Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Putting the Civility back in Civil Rights

For those who think there is no hope of bridging the deep cultural divides in this country, I would recommend reading an encouraging op-ed from yesterday's USA Today by Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., and the author of a new paper entitled "Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground.”

Haynes does not take sides or pretend to offer a substantive solution to the charged clashes that are going on in many communities across the nation around homosexuality in our schools. Instead, following the constructive roadmap that former Education Secretary Richard Riley developed during the Clinton Administration to help public schools navigate the church-state line, Haynes outlines a thoughtful, practicable process to help schools, parents, and advocates air and resolve their differences responsibly and respectfully.

As Haynes writes:

To avoid divisive fights and lawsuits, educators and parents must agree on civic ground rules to ensure fairness for all sides. After all, public schools belong to everyone. However deeply we disagree about homosexuality, the vast majority of us want schools to uphold the rights of all students in a safe learning environment. It isn't possible for us to reach ideological or religious consensus, but it is possible — and necessary — to reach civic consensus on civil dialogue.

School districts divided about how to handle issues concerning sexual orientation should take a step back from the debate and find agreement on First Amendment principles. Most Americans can agree that freedom of religion and speech are inherent rights for all. Starting with an acknowledgement of inalienable rights immediately levels the playing field, helping to ensure that everyone has a right to speak — and everyone's claim of conscience is taken seriously.

More challenging, but still attainable, is an agreement that we all have a civic responsibility to guard the rights of others, including those with whom we disagree. And, finally, people must agree to debate one another without resorting to personal attacks, ridicule, false characterizations of opposing positions and similar tactics.

Maybe for his next act, we can get Haynes to write some groundrules of responsibility and respect for the children in Congress.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?